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tv   Religion Ethics Newsweekly  PBS  July 10, 2011 10:00am-10:30am PDT

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who gets into heaven? also, government-supported maiage education. does it cross the line separating church and state? and buddhist monks creating a mandala and then destroying it. major funding for "religion & ethics newsweekly" is provided by the lily endowment, an indianapolis-based private family foundation dedicated to its founders' interest in religion, community development, and education. additional funding by mutual of america, designed and customized individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company and the corporation for public broadcasting.
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welcome. i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. president obama has been meeting with congressional leaders this week, continuing negotiations over raising the debt ceiling and reducing the federal deficit. the president says he wants increased tax revenue in addition to budgets cuts, some of which would affect medicare, medicaid and social security. several religious groups meanwhile are lobbying congress. they say any cuts that hurt the poor are immoral. according to a new report from the united nations, global food production must increase by up to a 100% by 2050 to feed the world's growing population. the u.n. also says that more than 900 million people currently suffer from malnutrition. in east africa, severe drought and rising food prices have led to wide-spread famine. 12 million people are affected
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and tens of thousands have fled somalia alone in search of food. the dalai lama arrived in washington this week for an 11-day peace festival. the event, called a kalachakra, includes buddhist rituals and lectures by the dalai lama and others. the opening ceremonies took place on the dalai lama's 76th birthday. the spiritual leader spoke of his recent decision to give up his role in the tibetan government in exile. he said he has come to believe religious and political institutions should be separate. we have a special report now on the ongoing theological controversy among many christians, especially evangelical protestants, over who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. is salvation limited only to those who profess faith in jesus christ? one prominent evangelical pastor has re-opened the ancient debe. kim lawton reports.
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♪ i can only imagine ♪ what i will do for millennia, people have being trying to imagine what happens after death. is there a heaven? who gets in? and what happens to those who don't? >> everybody dies. we want to hope that the people we love we'll see again, and we want to hope that our own identities and our own consciousness and maybe even our own bodies exist in some other realm after we're gone from this earth. >> books trying to provide answers to these age-old questions continue to be bestsellers. one of them "love wins" by michigan mega church pastor rob bell has ignited an intense new debate, particularlymong evangelical christians.
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>> a lot of people, the conception they we handed of thchriian ith that you go around making judgments, so-and-so we know for sure is burning forever in that place. you don't know that. that's speculation. >> if you reject the kingdom of god, it doesn't really look all that good for you. >> according to the pew forum on religion and public life, an overwhelming majority of americans believe in life after death. 74% believe in heaven, and almost 60% believe in hell. the majority of americans also believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. the exception to this -- evangelicals, who are more likely to say that theirs is the one true faith that leads to eternal life. journalist lisa miller is author of the book "heaven" an enduring fascination with the afterlif >> it's a mistake to think you can even talk about god in the western tradition without talking about heaven, right? how you get to heaven, the question of salvation is central to judaism, islam, and christianity.
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>> evangelicals have been especially certain about their answers, with many saying that people must accept jesus as their personal savior. >> jesus said there are two roads ilif one is the broad road that leads to destruction and judgment and hell. the other is a narrow road that leads to heaven and paradise. >> mary vanden berg is assistant professor of systematic theology at calvin seminary in grand rapids, michigan. >> there is one sure way to know that you will spend eternal life with god, in the presence of god, and that is through faith in jesus christ. >> gandhi is in hell and he is? and someone knows this for sure? will only a few select people make it to heaven, and will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? >> bell offers a more expansive view. he's pastor of the
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nondenominational mars hill bible church just outside grand rapids, which has some 10,000 weekly attenders. he's also a popular speaker, whose videos have a huge international following among younger evangelicals. >> for me, interacting with countless people over the years who literally are carrying around an ime, god is not good and god is not good because my grandmother died and at the funeral the pastor wanted us all to know for sure that my grandma was burning in torment forever. >> bell points to scriptures where jesus says he is restoring all things and drawing all people to himself. >> and jesus tells stories in which the key character doesn't give up on whatever is lost, and i think we should take that seriously. i don't know what god has in ind, but i dknow that thi story that jesus tells causes us to pause before we make any of those sorts of judgments. be very careful, because god may be up to something way, way bigger than you're ever been
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able to comprehend. >> heaven, bell says, is not a far-away place but a renewal of the earth that begins here and now. bell believes the spectrum of people who will be part of it is "wide and expansive." hell, he says, is the consequence of choosing not to be part of god's massive embrace. >> god is throwing a party and everybody's invited, but if you don't want to come, you are given that option. >> and in one of the most controversial parts of his book, bell takes issue with the traditional christian teaching that death ends any opportunity to make that choice. >> so a 17-year-old atheist dies. god will punish this 17-year-old atheist forever? >> yup. >> so, 17 million years from now, god will be tormenting and punishing this 17-year-old atheist? >> yup. >> and this is okay with god? >> yup, that's w its.
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and for me it just seems like, i don't know, that doesn't -- it's not compelling. that doesn't seem to be what jesus was talking about. >> maybe we can think about those things, and maybe we can wonder about those things, but the bible's pretty clear that when the end comes that's the end. you don't have a second chance. now might there be? could god do that? i don't know of any theologian that would say god couldn't. god can do whatever god wants to do, but what ds t bile say? th biblical text dsn't indicate this at all. >> vanden berg says while she believes bell raises some interesting questions, she is concerned that he is lifting out a few particular verses without taking the full biblical narrative into account. >> i'm uncomfortable with the way he frames things in the book that make it sound like sort of like don't worry about it because it's just going to be okay, and i'm not convinced that the bible says that. i'm fairly convinced that the
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bible says if you reject me, i'll reject you. >> some evangelicals say bell doesn't give enough importance to the passages where biblical authors describe god's judgment toward sin. >> when they talk about god's great love, it's always set against the backdrop of god's righteousness, god's wrath, god's holiness. >> i think what happens for many people is they heard about the judgment before the love. but if you start with the love and the judgment flows out of that, god's love is for us to flourish in god's good world. for us to flourish in god's good world, judgments have to be made. well, that then now that puts judgment in s properlace >> many evangelicals have been severe in their condemnation of bell. some even called him a heretic. >> we care about people, and people who have grown up in the church, who have sung these same songs, who are being won over by somebody who has produced great videos and is a good communicator but is ultimately
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teaching a false gospel. >> what made people mad about rob bell was that he calls himself a conservative evangelical, and he beeves in a much loor idea of heaven and salvaon than conservative evangelicals traditionally believe in. so if he had called himself an episcopalian, for example, nobody would have batted an eye. >> miller says the conversation itself isn't new, but the fact that it's taking place so openly within evangelicalism is. >> this is a radical upheaval of that entire worldview. then what does that do to your doctrine, to your creeds, to your world view, to your, to your mission for evangelism? whado you need to teach people if they're going to get in anyway? it's a real theological struggle. >> miller says bell has particular resonance among young evangelicals who increasingly have friends from different
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faith traditions, and that's precisely what troubles conservatives. >> and i think that is why we have to talk about this, because we are very concerned about the loss of the gospel and not just geing a doctre gone, the ss othe spel in is. >> in june, the southern baptist convention voted to reaffirm its belief in the reality of hell as an "eternal, conscious punishment" for those who don't accept jesus. bell says he wants people to see that jesus' ultimate message was about love, not just avoiding hell. >> jesus didn't come along and say, "you don't want to be a part of that thing, do you?" no, he came along and said, "trust me. something big is going down. here, here's a taste." ah. people thought it was amazing. >> he says he's not bothed by those who accuse him of inciting a dangers conversation. >> it seems to me like the church would be the place that would lead the way in having dangerous conversations.
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i mean, isn't that what faith is? >> and the conversation isn't ending anytime soon. several more books abt heaven and hell are being released over the next few weeks. ♪ i can only imagine i'm kim lawton in grand rapids. >>now, the changing america famil at least calornia. once, the most common kind of family used to be a married man and woman, and their children -- the so-called "nuclear" family. but "the los angeles times" analyzed census bureau figures and found that in california the traditional family now makes up only 23.4% of all households. the others are part of a fast-growing variety of single-parent families, married couples with no children, unmarried couples with children, same-sex couples with owithout children and so on. many organizations are tring to
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preserve and strengthen traditional heterosexual marriages, among them, as saul gonzalez found, the federal government. does that support violate separation of church and state? and does so-called marriage education really work? >> every year, more than 2 million couples marry in the united states. >> when is your wedding? >> august 25th. >> oh, you want to sign up here? >> sure. >> and some of those soon to be brides and grooms were here at this southern california wedding expo. as they plan their big day, it's easy to find people ready to talk about what it takes to keep a relationship strong. >> i think we definitely are working every day on our relationship, making sure that that stays steady, and then we also have our personal goals that we want -- >> we already went through the tuxedo rentals. we needed that -- >> raymond gerst and jessica vargas recently became engaged. >> communication, flat out.
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we are slowly evolving into having better communication between each other. >> i know who he is. i know his flaws, i know the things that annoy me, but at the end of the day -- >> as do i -- >> -- i have him, and i know he will be there for me. and as long as that communication stays good, i think we'll do all right. >> as do i. >> however, statistics show that just over 50% of first marriages in the u.s. end in divorce. couples whose relationships do sour, though, have gotten help from a powerful ally in recent years, the united states government. starting with a bush administration initiative in 2006 called the healthy marriage initiative, washington spent over half a billion dollars bankrolling various marriage education and healthy relationship programs across the country, many run by churches
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and religious groups. >> we believe that being successful in marriage, it's primarily a skills-based function, and what we provide is the skills to allow those people to be successful. >> dennis stoica is the president of the california healthy marriages coalition. 's a non-profitroup that received over $12 million from the u.s. department of health and human services. most of the federal dollars stoica's group receives in turn goes to marriage education groups run by mostly christian churches and religious groups, such as the catholic diocese of san bernardino county, which held this marriage forum. it now gets more than 50% of its marriage education funds from the federal government. >> and it makes sense that the 1 church would be interested in this. i mean, if you think about it, no matter what religion somebody belongs to or you're affiliated with, all religions that i am awre othink tha marriage should be a holy institute. so it is a strong alignment of values, yes. >> the material used in government-funded marriage education programs mostly deals with communication problems and conflict management between
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spouses, like this scenario in a video produced by a federally funded group in alabama. >> robert! you didn't even start dinner. i asked you two things and you promised two things, clothes and dinner. all you had to do was turn on the oven! i left you a note right on the refrigerator and i know you saw it because see what's in yr ha. hey! >> ew! you can see where this conversation is headed. robert and tanya are both tired and stressed. he made some promises he didn't keep, and she is coming on pretty strong -- >> fighting poverty is primarily why the federal government is funding marriage education, the argument being that couples that stay together, especially in low-income minority communities, are more stable and less likely to seek government assistance. although few question the benefits of marriage, there are questions about the government's role in education.
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>> you have the government telling you what type of relationships you will establish. >> sharon hayes is an expert on families and expert on government policy. >> would anne care to share your joys or struggle from marriage. >> she worries about federal money going to religious groups that might criticize gay couples or couples who choose not the marry. >> if marriage is aenerally good thing for society, it is a good thing for the people to be married why shouldn't the government be involved in that? >> it is implicitly saying there is one correct road, and it is the marriage pathway. ultimately, when i look at the materials on the marriage promotion efforts, i worry about an underwritten agenda here and it is not a story about ending poverty, but a story about morali morali, and iishe moral tng to do is to be married and
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unmarried people are morally incorrect, and that is why it is dangerous for the government to be in the education of marriage program. >> if people want to get married, we want them to be successful. but if people don't want to get married, we don't want them to get married, because if you don't want to be married you're not going to stay married. >> it is a commitment as one. >> and stoica says the groups he funds steer clear of proselytizing. however, he is a devout catholic who sees his marriage work as a vocation. >> i believe this is god's calling for me, is that i do believe that marriage is designed by god and that he wants people to be happily married. and that by helping people be happily married, i'm fulfilling upon god's calling for my life.
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>> and you feel you can save people's marriages without necessarily imposing your own religious standards on them? >> absolutely. oureligio staar-the jusdon't showp inhe classroom. they just don't show up. >> few independent studies have been done to assess the quality and effectiveness of federally funded marriage education. the federal government commissioned one report released last year by the social policy study group mathematica. it studied 5,000 low-income couples in eight states participating in building strong families, part of the government's marriage and relationship education effort. it found that "when results are averaged across all programs, bsf did not make couples more likely to stay together or get married. in addition, it did not improve couples' relationship quality. >> it is quite surprising, right. here is this federal program that has been well funded for five years, and the research on it has shown tt it is not effective. it is not effective in doing what one might call the simplest thing, which is to get people to get married. >> hays believes the money spent on marriage education should instead go to other programs, such as job training for the poor. however, stoica stands behind both marriage and marriage education as ways to make millions of people's lives better.
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>> believe, frankly, that marriage education is the best anti-poverty program that the federal government has ever invested in, because of its preventative nature. over 90% of americans end up getting married. over 95% of americans say they want to get married. all we are doing is giving people increased probability of having what they want, which is a happy marriage. >> the obama administration is expected to co'tinue supporting marriage education proams. it's budgeted $150 million for the next fiscal year. >> i'm thinking about having something like this on the tables -- >> but, see, then that totally changes my color scheme again. >> at the marriage expo, the focus is preparing for the first few hours of matrimony and not the joys and challenges that will come later. for "religion and ethics newsweekly," i'm saul gonzalez in los angeles.
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♪ in other news -- in india, investigators were ordered this week to open the vaults of a 16th century hindu temple where they discovered an estimated $22 billion worth of valuables -- bags of gold coins, jewels and gold statues of hindu deities. officials think much of the collection came from the royal family that once controlled the area. some argue the items should be given to charity, others say they belong to the temple. india's supreme court ruled that a museum should be set up to house the treasure. finally -- in conjunction with the dalai lama's visit to washington this week, tibetan monks are constructing a sand mandala, a symbolic structure that represents the buddha's dwelling and the idea of impermanence. in 2007, we visited auburn theological seminary in new york, to watch the building of a
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similar sand mandala, this one by monks from the dalai lama's private monastery in india. karen humphries sallick organized the monk's 2007 tour and explained the significance of the mandala practice. >> the mandala is a teaching and meditation tool so that we can focus on evoking in ourselves the buddha nature that we buddhists believe you have inside you. a sand mandala is made typically from precious stones that have been hand-ground and then hand-dyed. the sand goes in a funnel. they'll rub it and the sand will come out. that's how they put these layers of sand down to create these beautiful, spiritual forms of art. the very center is the representation of chenrezig, the buddha of compassion. tibetan buddhists actually believe that his holiness the 14th dalai lama is the reincarnation of chenrezig.
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the next ring outside of the central figure of compassion are representations of four different buddhas. the buddha for eliminating hatred is represented by a thunderbolt. then we have a jewel that represents the deity that can eliminate suffering. then we have a wheel of knowledge or dharma, the deity that represents the elimination of ignorance. and then the last is a green sword that cuts through jealousy. the next circle are lotus leaves. if you've ever seen a statue of a buddha, they are often sitting on a lotus flower, so the family of buddhas that are represented in the center are sitting in a ring of lotus. then outside of that is the vadra ring of protection from negative thoughts. finally, in the very outside ring -- fire, and that fire is to burn through ignorance to enlightenment.
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the dissolution is actually a very important part of the mandala process, because it really is showing the nature of impermanence. as westerners, we get so attached to things. so here's this beautiful mandala that these monks have worked five days on. and, with no emotion whatsoever, they reach their hand into the middle and just mess it up. and then they'll sweep it up with brushes, and they'll place it into a vase. the mandala will be brought to the water. the deities in the mandala will then go into the water as a blessing, back to the earth. the tibetans believe that anyone who watches the building and dissolution of a mandala actually accumulates merit and
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can begin to evoke that buddha nature, being the most compassionate we can be. that's our program for now. 'm bob abernethy. y can follow us otwitter and facebook, find us on youtube, and watch us anytime, anywhere on smart phones and iphones. there's also much more on our web site, including more of kim lawton's interviews about heaven and hell, and a special interview on religion and terrence malik's new movie "the tree of life," which opens nationwide this weekend. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at as we lea youscenes from india of celebrations of the dalai lama's 76th birthday.
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& ethics newsweekly" is provided by the lily endowment, an indianapolis-based prite family foundation dedicated to its founders' interest in religion, community development, and education. additional funding by mutual of america, designed and customized individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company and the corporation for public broadcasting.
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